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Coaching Tips

The Boredom Paradox

When world-class cellist Pablo Casals was 93, someone asked him why he still practiced with such diligence. Casals said, “I think I’m making progress.”

Imagine staying fascinated with something for that long! After decades, Casals was interested in getting better! You can use his example to achieve greatness in your field. If you can become genuinely intrigued by anything — shooting free throws, juggling, music, art — you have the basis for achievement, if you translate the fascination into practice.

Here’s the problem: The brain likes boredom. In fact, the brain requires boredom so that we can grow. Don’t believe it? Let’s say you’re a child and you jump into a puddle for the first time. You love it! You love the splash, and the effect that you can cause with your actions.

But after a while, you get bored. Your brain says, “I get it. If I jump, the water will fly up. Let’s move on.”

Without this mechanism, we would remain stuck on one item forever, and we would never expand our thoughts.

So here’s the paradox. How do we remain fascinated by something when the brain would really rather move on? I don’t know how, but some people do it.

Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Williams thought of very little except hitting. His fellow Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was famously asked what he did during the winter. He replied, “I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Casals, Williams and Hornsby were not well-rounded people. Yet through fascination with one thing, they became legends.

So the Boredom Paradox may be more of a Boredom Tradeoff. You can choose, like a bee, to move from flower to flower. Or you can stay with one flower all your life, mining it for every drop of nectar.

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Mike Tully speaks to sports, business and educational groups. He also works with coaches, athletes and teams to make their practice time more productive and efficient. He and Gary Pritchard are co-authors of “Ten Things Great Coaches Know.” To see Coach Tully and Coach Pritchard discuss “Seven Ways to Prepare for Adversity,” click here.


One comment for “The Boredom Paradox”

  1. Like this post, Mike. What it says about the humility of human experience. Boredom? Sure, but there is nectar to be found in every pursuit if you allow your mind to be open to it.

    Posted by Larry O'Connor | March 24, 2011, 1:41 pm

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